Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Last Hawk by Catherine Asaro

The Last Hawk by Catherine Asaro
The Last Hawk tells the tale of the lost heir to the Empire. Fleeing the heat of battle in a wounded spacecraft, Kelric crash-lands on a proscribed planet where a matriarchy rules through the medium of a complex game. The women in power help to heal him, but destroy his ship and determine that he can never leave - for his knowledge of their world, if revealed to the Empire, would cause the rapid fall of their civilization. And so his rescue turns into an imprisonment of years, decades, a time in which he finds love and a challenging place in the universal game.
This was a reread for me. I read the book last when I first discovered the series, back in the late '90s and I haven't had an opportunity to reread it since. I think this time around I loved the book even more than I did the first time.

I think that part of my problem on my first read was that I simply gobbled up the story and didn't have time to go slowly and savour the details. The thing that I had struggled most with was the Quis (the "complex game" mentioned in the blurb) and how it all worked.

On rereading I came to realise that I didn't need to know exactly how it worked (and indeed, that isn't explained) but to understand what it meant to Coba. It was like Kelric described it - as a communications network, but it was also a way of expressing abstract mathematics and physics concepts.

The thing I had missed before and that had made the story confusing, was that it also holds a lot of forgotten knowledge. Whether that was intentional when Quis was first developed or it just happened that the information went into the Quis even as it was being lost to everyday use isn't shown. I found it quite reminiscent (although a totally different method) of the Sybil network in Joan D. Vinge's Tiamat books. The lost knowledge is there for the asking - if you ask the sybil (or the Quis) the right question.

I also felt I got to know Kelric a lot better this time around. I'd always liked him, but I feel that now I understand more deeply what happens to him, I just love him to pieces and want to hold him close and heal all his hurts.

At one point in my reading, I both wanted to get some stitching done and keep up with the book. I managed to do both by moving to my audiobook for a bit. That lead to a previous post, the pertinent bits of which I'm going to reproduce here to have it all in one place.

Going back to why I've never reread my favourite series, it's because I keep putting off rereading them, both for matters of time and in case I don't like them as much. Also, bad stuff happens to the characters and I keep putting off reading that, even though I know things turn out fine in the end.

I've found I take things in better when I read them than when I listen to them. I followed the story fine, but I can't fall into an audiobook the way I can tumble into a paper (or electronic) book and just be absorbed into the story. So my previous intention of listening to books that aren't absolute favourites was probably right.

All the same, I made a point of stopping when the next part of The Last Hawk was one of the sections I wanted to savour and enjoy. I went back to reading the actual book. I love audiobooks, but I love "real" books even more.

It was, in a way, disappointing that the most significant relationship Kelric was to have on Coba, ended just as it was truly beginning. This was his marriage to Ixpar Karn. Despite their being together for several years, it was only as circumstances forced Kelric to leave Coba that there were in the right place to truly work and love together.

I did like the synchronicity of the way Kelric took the flyer Ixpar had left for him, not knowing she had left it, while Ixpar saw it was gone, but didn't know Kelric had taken it. It was sad neither of them knew what the other had come to realise - Ixpar that Kelric had to leave and Kelric that he loved her - but beautifully written the way it was done.

I suspect Catherine Asaro always knew she'd be writing about Kelric and Ixpar later and it was more important in this book to show the other interactions. Also, the relationship with which we spent the most time was one that ended badly. Rashiva pretty much betrayed Kelric and you've got to have relationship and trust for a betrayal to be devastating, so that relationship had to be built up first.

One thing that did trouble me, especially in my first reading, was that Kelric went through a lot of women in this book. Or, more accurately since Coba is a matriarchy and the men still clearly the subservient gender, a lot of woman went through Kelric. But I do realise that the book covers about 20 years, and it was made clear that Kelric was perfectly attractive to the Coban psyche. First time round I found it difficult the way Kelric seemed to come to love most of them (well, four out of six and of the other two, one was never a personal relationship and the other seriously mistreated him). But this time round I saw that he was never willing to offer any emotion when he still felt linked to the previous "wife". Only after they had died (Dahl and Savina) or rejected him (Rashiva) was he willing to risk. By Ixpar, he wasn't willing at all, but found love crept up on him all the same.

I think Kelric, adored littlest brother of a large family, must simply have a great capacity to love.

It'll be interested to see how that plays out as he redevelops a relationship with Ixpar - or at least I hope that's what he'll be doing in the new book.

This is a bit messier than my usual reviews as I've pulled it together from comments I posted on the [asaro] mailing list rather than making my brain start from scratch, so I hope it still makes sense.

The Last Hawk
Catherine Asaro
part of the Skolian series

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